While the holidays tend to be about family and are supposed to be about happier times, that isn’t always necessarily the case. After having a rough day, capping off a rough week for me, I didn’t feel like doing much. I was depressed, uninspired, and not looking forward to anything. Something made me decide to put on a movie, and I stumbled upon the 1988 Italian film CINEMA PARADISO in my queue, and that decision to watch it made all the difference.
Before even the halfway point of the film, my mood had been elevated, both from the lovely story about a boy growing up with a theater as well as the beautiful score. Without even realizing it, I felt the healing power of the movie, something that it alludes to throughout the film. Film is in no doubt from me a vital aspect to our society for entertainment, but also a helpful tool in improving our well-being. Fellow writer BJ Colangelo (Icons of Fright, Day of the Woman) recently dealt with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, operations, and a painful recovery process. Throughout it all though, she has turned to movies and music, both lifting her spirits and inspiring her to create her own. While she isn’t done fighting, she still has the spirit to fight thanks in part to film.
Where the 1985 Japanese film TAMPOPO compares food to the course of life, CINEMA PARADISO compares film to life. A coming of age story surrounding Salvatore “Toto” Di Vita. it begins with him as a grown man finding out that a dear friend had just passed away. The rest of the film rolls out as him remembering his young childhood, where he meets the projectionist Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) of the local theater, the Cinema Paradiso. Toto is an altar boy, and tags along with the priest to the theater, where the clergyman previews the coming attractions, ringing a bell every time there is an objectionable scene (usually involving something as tame as kissing). Alfredo marks the spot in the film, snipping the offending scene out before it is to be seen by the general public. Toto takes a few snippets of the film he finds on the ground home, collecting them in a box he keeps under his bed.
Eventually, the two become very close and Alfredo becomes a mentor to the young boy. Toto is missing a father figure, with his dad missing from the war in Russia. Alfredo teaches him how to run the projector, how to make the necessary cuts to the films, and how to splice the scenes back in when sending the film reels off to the next theater. Besides the technical lessons, Toto is given little lessons on life from Alfredo via sage words quoted as if it was from the scrolls of an ancient philosopher, but each time was something said in a movie that Alfredo had memorized. And while there was a large age gap between the two, their friendship still thrived, rather than suffering from it.
We see Toto grow older, as the town changes little, but there is a new theater after a nitrate film fire that almost cost Alfredo his life, permanently blinding him, and gutting the original Cinema Paradiso. It is rebuilt as the Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, with Toto as the projectionist, as well as a new owner. The new owner, Spaccafico (Enzo Cannavale), isn’t beholden to the priest’s requests for censoring the films, and a minor uproar occurs at the first kiss seen in the town on the screen in almost twenty years.
With Toto growing older, we see his interests in film grow as he begins to film everything from a butcher working on the local cattle, to fellow students. While doing this, he first sees Elena (Agnese Nano), a wealthy girl that he immediately becomes smitten with. After a lengthy attempt to court her, the two have a brief romance, only to be torn apart from each other. Alfredo uses this as a reason to push Toto to leave, to pursue a career in film. “I don’t want to hear you talk anymore, I want to hear others talking about you.” While not the most inspirational words, they show how much faith Alfredo had in his pupil.
The film was beautifully shot and deservedly won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1990. Besides the beautiful visuals put forth, it is bolstered by a wonderful score by composer Ennio Morricone. While researching the movie post-watch, I was elated to find that the score is available on Spotify.